Aside from a few differences living in the 1950s, being British, not being a teacher, being actively involved in church Mildred Lathbury could easily be me She s in her early 30s, she s unmarried, people keep telling her about their problems and expecting her to fix them, men think she s in love with them just because she s single, and she prefers living by herself because someone else would just mess everything up.And here s another thing that I noticed her friends and neighbors would often Aside from a few differences living in the 1950s, being British, not being a teacher, being actively involved in church Mildred Lathbury could easily be me She s in her early 30s, she s unmarried, people keep telling her about their problems and expecting her to fix them, men think she s in love with them just because she s single, and she prefers living by herself because someone else would just mess everything up.And here s another thing that I noticed her friends and neighbors would often ask her to do things in a tone that suggested, Oh, well, since you re single, YOU DON T HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO DO, so could you please for me That is annoying, and very accurate.I am going to start referring to myself as an Excellent Woman I m going to put it on my cards I am re reading Barbara Pym s books this summer to lift my spirits as I recover from physical injury I find I can only take so much emotional stress before I retreat to her closely observed lives full of the quotidian routines of the women who are the backbone of the Anglican Church Flower arranging, knitting, polishing church brasses, it is all part of the detail of their quiet lives as loss of love is accepted with resignation, spinsters find a way of making do on limited budgets, and the I am re reading Barbara Pym s books this summer to lift my spirits as I recover from physical injury I find I can only take so much emotional stress before I retreat to her closely observed lives full of the quotidian routines of the women who are the backbone of the Anglican Church Flower arranging, knitting, polishing church brasses, it is all part of the detail of their quiet lives as loss of love is accepted with resignation, spinsters find a way of making do on limited budgets, and the seasons pass marked by jumble sales and church festivals Many cups of tea are provided as life s crises are negotiated, with the occasional coffee or medicinal brandy, and one falls asleep knowing there are still quiet pockets of the world filled with excellent women I ve read this many times and have both a kindle version and a paperback Barbara Pym wrote about ordinary women leading ordinary lives They don t have interesting, exciting jobs or adventures and their personal lives consist of doing flowers for the church or manning a booth at a church fete This sounds horrible and tedious, but it is exactly the opposite her books are funny and sweet and excellent, just like her women. This review first appeared on my blog Shoulda Coulda Woulda Books.Awhile ago, I asked for recommendations for books that take place in small villages I d just done a re read of Emma and followed that up with An Accomplished Woman, and I was really enjoying the scale of the worlds and the consequent depth of observation that this allowed for which is why I asked forOne that came up a couple of times but hadn t made it to the top yet was Excellent Women by Barbara Pym I wish that I had l This review first appeared on my blog Shoulda Coulda Woulda Books.Awhile ago, I asked for recommendations for books that take place in small villages I d just done a re read of Emma and followed that up with An Accomplished Woman, and I was really enjoying the scale of the worlds and the consequent depth of observation that this allowed for which is why I asked forOne that came up a couple of times but hadn t made it to the top yet was Excellent Women by Barbara Pym I wish that I had listened to the recommenders and gotten to this sooner, because this is everything I wanted and.Excellent Women focuses on Mildred Lethbury, a thirtyish woman living in London in the early 1950s While this might not sound like it qualifies as a small village book, that would be to confuse the London of today with the London of then As it was in the early 1800s when Emma s Highbury was a village, the various neighborhoods of the city formed small, often self contained, communities of their own within the larger city This was especially true in the bombed out postwar city as people made the most of what they had and tried to put some semblance of a life back together Mildred may have had slightlymobility than the small town ladies of most village novels she went further downtown to work , but this didn t affect her outlook overly much Her world, as the book opens, is her local church, its vicar, and its crowd of excellent women of the title, who crowd about the church doing good works her greatest excursion is her Wednesday trip to services at another church downtown whose pastor, due to the war, is still undecided, and receives new visiting priests each week.It s a comfortable, predictable life, in which Mildred does a lot of good, and has friends who care for her and a world she understands Unfortunately for her or fortunately depending on how you look at this story, ultimately , Mildred lives in a house with two apartments So, in the first pages of this novel, into this comfortable life steps some new, highly unconventional downstairs neighbors, the Napiers The Napiers have newfangled ideas Helena is an anthropologist and glamorous pasts Rockingham yup, that s his name spent the war in Italy, and Helena did research in Africa Their marriage is not decorous and supportive not that Mildred would dream of eavesdropping she just cannot choose but to overhear some things they say , it is full of yelling and conflicts Worse, they have unconventional acquaintances, like fellow anthropologist Everard Bone, a most irritating man Trouble also comes from another neighbor taken in at the vicarage with amiable Julian and his sister Winifred, trying to help with the national housing shortage Mrs Gray There is just something one cannot quite like about her if you know what she means, and if you ve ever read a book like this, you totally do Or you will, before long Well done, Pym, I wanted to scratch this lady s eyes out from my sheer depth of recognition of her awfulness within pages of meeting her Mildred navigates these complications like the excellent woman she is of course, but things get quite upsetting.As you can see, it s all very small scale The troubles of five or six families in a country village, to the lifelike three or four, really But I finished it in a day, and there are lots of reasons why First, Pym did a great job with her first person narration I think making Mildred, sweet, apparently dependable Mildred, an unreliable narrator, filtering events through her anxious, well meaning mind, was a very strong choice It humanized and gave interest to a character who could have been laughed at and satirized from the outside, Thackeray style, super easily Pym did poke gentle fun at her, but from the perspective of one who understands and loves this character Occasionally it seemed like Pym could perhaps become slightly defensive of her character, which I suspect was perhaps an overidentification with her.I also understand that she was likely writing for a similar audience, much in the same manner that A Provincial Lady was who I also loved and need to readof , and it didn t obtrude enough to be truly bothersome Besides, the rhythm of Mildred s quiet, determined, well intentioned mind did the work of gathering sympathy all on its own.Which leads me to my second reason for loving this This is yet another in a series of wonderful books about women quietly rebelling that I ve been finding and reading for years, books about extra women, or unwanted women, women who are expected to bear the burdens of others, women who rebel in their own ways not with violence or dramatic displays, but simply by preferring not to Books like Lolly Willowes and The Awakening is what I mean and Excellent Women is another high quality entry into this list Mildred refuses to be the sighing spinster desperately angling for a husband, desperate for romance, that society might perceive her to be, or the eternally perky, useful woman despite trying her very best to be the latter sometimes, despite occasionally wishing to be the former Mildred is a person the scene where she refuses a date that could possibly be romantic from a man because she assumes that he is inviting her over to cook for him he literally calls and is like I have some meat to be cooked , so you can forgive her , made me want to cheer, as did the scene where a man makes a romantic overture for clearly the wrong reasons and way too soon and she has none of it I love stories about women who are secure enough to be true to themselves, and it turns out that this story, despite Mildred s struggles with the roles people assume she will perform for them, is ultimately about that Mildred is a person, and she will set some firm if quiet limits about that when she can I wish she had done it , sooner, and louder, but don t we all wish that for ourselves and others How often do we achieve it Mildred does it enough to make me feel a great respect for her, enough to inspire me to hope that I might be able to do the same for myself one day.Finally, I think this was all so effective because Pym did a great job immersing the reader in her world without ever being preachy or doing a great deal of obvious world building Like many great writers before her, she let the dialogue and thoughts and actions of her characters fill in the rest, with only minimal physical description to fill it out Perhaps this was because she was writing for a contemporary audience who already lived in this world but I didn t need to live there to see the colors it was painted in in spite of that, which speaks volumes of her writing I loved the oblique, offhand references to the aftermath of the war the church she goes to Wednesday service at is always full because half of the church is still bombed out and unrepaired, so much of the plot is about new and unlikely neighbors because people are scrambling for housing in a half built city, people showing generosity by using their rations of special items on guests, the number of widows and single women trying to make their way, the vicar in the bombed out church missing because he had been killed in the war, the way marriages were still being affected by the war s long separation This is a story about how the war continued to affect people for years afterward, told in the most everyday sort of way, without any sort of drama Pym tells us only the surface, but the surface isthan enough to hint at what must underlie some of thesubtle shifts in her character s mind, where her periodic restlessness may come from, the anxiety present in some characters behavior, and the unchanging nature of others.All in all, this book will be exactly what you d expect But it will be that at high quality, it will be that with unexpected sympathy, with grace and with quiet pride And you ll remember Mildred, you ll remember her far longer than you would any of her real life number And with that, I think Pym would be content I am honestly not sure what to make of this book I initially discovered this book and author through a randomcrawl, where I assume it was recommended to me based on some of my other highly rated books I vaguely remember reading that Excellent Women was satirical, funny, biting, etc., and there were several comparisons to Jane Austen I don t share the crush that virtually all well educated white girls seem to have for Jane Austen despite being a well educated white girl myself , but I am honestly not sure what to make of this book I initially discovered this book and author through a randomcrawl, where I assume it was recommended to me based on some of my other highly rated books I vaguely remember reading that Excellent Women was satirical, funny, biting, etc., and there were several comparisons to Jane Austen I don t share the crush that virtually all well educated white girls seem to have for Jane Austen despite being a well educated white girl myself , but I did enjoy Sense and Sensibility well enough for me to take a second look at any author who s compared to Austen The main character of Excellent Women is a single 30 year old woman named Mildred who lives in London in the 1950s This being the 50s, and Mildred being 30 already, she is considered to have entered the spinster stage and is treated very patronizingly by everyone around her, as though she had suddenly gone mad and started collecting vast amounts of cats The plot of the book describes her very provincial and narrow life, which consists of making tea, eating really sad lunches of lettuce and cheese, and interfering with getting dragged into other people s lives and helping to sort out their problems.There are a few witty, clever lines in this book, but any pleasure they might have provided is withheld since they almost seem to be delivered unconsciously, as though Mildred could never imagine herself as someone who ever says anything funny In fact, the moments that were supposed to be funny had a very sad quality to me, as though the author were rubbing it in our faces how miserable the main character was, but somehow also expecting us to be a sport and laugh anyway I kept thinking, Oh, Mildred seems unassuming, but this is where she s about to assert herself and become a real, three dimensional person But it never happened Instead of being redeemed, she just slipped slowly and sadly into her permanent role as a doormat and sounding board for other people, and her individuality was lost in a bland mist of apathy and tea making There s one scene where Mildred is at a church committee meeting and one of the women leading the meeting starts making tea for everyone Mildred, who has already consumed about four cups of tea that day, feebly suggests that perhaps they don t need tea for this meeting Here s how that scene continues she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look, Do we need tea she echoed But Miss Lathbury She sounded puzzled and distressed and I began to realise that my question had struck at something deep and fundamental It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind I mumbled something about making a joke and that of course one needed tea always, at every hour of the day or night I recognize that this scene has a big laugh here sign on it, but I just found Mildred s complete acquiescence and sheepishness to be depressing There is the seed of social commentary in this book after all, Mildred does get weary of constantly meeting everyone s demands and expectations towards the end of the book, and seems on the verge of telling everyone off but instead of taking that social commentary to its logical conclusion by having Mildred rebel, however mildly, Pym takes the alternate route of having Mildred sink into resignation and acceptance of her pathetic lot in life In fact, the book ends with her getting roped into doing some clerical work for a pompous scholar who s a friend of hers without pay, of course The presentation of women in this book is really unsettling as it often is in Jane Austen s books, too Mildred who we re presumably meant to identify with is a fussy, boring, spineless drone, and the foil to Mildred is a woman named Helena, who is an anthropologist Helena is described as being passionately interested in her work and committed to her field of study She is also described as being an awful housewife who leaves dishes unwashed, rooms untidied, and meals unprepared In the author s estimation, you can either be an intellectual or a good wife, but not both smart or feminine, but not both interesting or good, but not both There are no other options There are also only two options in terms of virtue or goodness attending church every single day or being an atheist Mildred attends church every day sometimes several times a day, it seems she goes to church the way some people now watch TV , has an unquestioning obedience to tradition and authority, and has a simpering, saccharine view of spirituality, while Helena, the anthropologist, is not religious at all, and is portrayed as a crass philistine with no compassion or virtue Again, Pym expects us to believe that these two stereotypes are the only options when choosing how to live a moral life I realize that comedy as a genre trades in stereotypes all the time it s the universal aspects of human experience that make us laugh in recognition and delight but the stereotypes in this book seemed very confining, un funny, and almost politically aggressive, as though Pym were daring any of her readers to be so arrogant as to claim that they fit into neither category It s possible that Pym was beingclever than I m giving her credit for, and was calling attention to how the 1950s warped women s lives as a way of justifying and explaining the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s But her negative portrayal of Helena who could have represented the smart, liberated woman of the future in a positive way indicates to me that Pym wasn t really thinking along those lines Overall, not nearly the snarky, witty romp I was promised I had such high hopes that I would love this book, and I did, so very much.So many people had said that it was so good, that it was Barbara Pym s best book, and when I realised that it was the story of a spinster, in her thirties in the fifties, my mind went spinning back.Not to the fifties I m not that old but to when my mother took me to church as a very small child We always sat behind a row of elderly ladies, and I spent a long time looking at their backs and hats during dull sermons an I had such high hopes that I would love this book, and I did, so very much.So many people had said that it was so good, that it was Barbara Pym s best book, and when I realised that it was the story of a spinster, in her thirties in the fifties, my mind went spinning back.Not to the fifties I m not that old but to when my mother took me to church as a very small child We always sat behind a row of elderly ladies, and I spent a long time looking at their backs and hats during dull sermons and lengthy intercessions They always spoke to my mother they had know her since she was a small girl coming to church with her own mother and whenever something was going on, be it a coffee morning or a jumble sale, they were always there and they were always busy.When I was a small girl I thought that they were ancient, but looking back I think most of them would have been in their sixties Years layer my mother used to visit one of those ladies when she was housebound, and I remember my mother telling me that she was always so welcoming and so appreciative Not long after she did her nephew appeared on our doorstep with two carved elephants My mother had mentioned in passing that she remembered her parents having a similar pair, and she had made a note that nother was to have her elephants.I m rambling, but I m going to come to the point now Mildred Lathbury the excellent woman who tells this story was so real, so utterly believable that I am quite prepared to believe that I might have been looking at her back and her hat back in the day.Mildred Lathbury was the daughter of a clergyman, and she had been brought up in a country vicarage, but when she found herself alone in the world she moved to a small flat near the Anglican church that she regularly attended She was a stalwart of that church and had formed a close friendship with Winifred Mallory She was the vicar s sister and, as both sister and brother were ummarried, they lived together in the vicarage It had been suggested that Mildred would be an excellent wife for Julian Mallory New arrivals heralded change.First new neighbours moved into the flat below Mildred s Helena Napier, an anthropologist, arrived first, and Mildred was taken aback when Helena spoke to her freely and frankly, when she announced that she didn t go to church, when she said that she didn t believe in housework Her husband, Rockingham had just come out of the navy and was on his way home from Italy Mildred wasn t sure if she liked Helena but she was intrigued by her, and by new possibilities And then the Mallory s decided to let a room Allegra Grey was a clergyman s widow and she seemed to be the ideal person to share the vicarage She wasn t, and some worked that outquickly than others There was much speculation, and a good deal of gossipingMildred s relationship with the Napiers was lovely to watch She was flattered to be asked for help and advice, and she came to realise that marriage was far, farcomplicated than she had realised And that she was ratherinvolved than she really wanted to be Events at the vicarage offered interesting parallels and contrasts Church events provided a wonderful backdrop And I haven t even mentioned Everest Bone Barbara Pym constructed her story so cleverly and told it beautifully There is wit, intelligence and insight, and such a very light touch and a natural charm A simple story, but the details made it sing It was so very believable.It offers a window to look clearly at a world that existed not so long ago, but that has changed now so completely.Mildred s voice rang completely true, and I did like her She was a genuinely nice woman, practical intelligent, and dependable She didn t think marriage was the answer to everything, she liked having her independence and her own space, but she did rather like the idea of being married, of having a companion in life.And now I have just oneword excellent I told myself that, after all, life was like that for most of us the small unpleasantness rather than the great tragedies the little useless longings rather than the great renunciations and dramatic love affairs of history or fiction Let me hasten to add that I am not at all like Jane Eyre, who must have given hope to so many plain women who tell their stories in the first person, nor have I ever thought of myself as being like her Love Barbara Pym s books, but it s so hard to tell wI told myself that, after all, life was like that for most of us the small unpleasantness rather than the great tragedies the little useless longings rather than the great renunciations and dramatic love affairs of history or fiction Let me hasten to add that I am not at all like Jane Eyre, who must have given hope to so many plain women who tell their stories in the first person, nor have I ever thought of myself as being like her Love Barbara Pym s books, but it s so hard to tell why Maybe because she had the courage or was it the lack of imagination or an excellent judgement of character and human nature in general to be able to write about the Mundane, the Humdrum, the Prosaic in a way that touches the heart stays with you Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym s richest and most amusing high comedies Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman s daughter and a mild mannered spinster in s England She is one of those excellent women the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires Just what I was looking for This is charming, witty and introduced me to the wonderfully observant Mildred Lathbury My first book by Pym, but not my last Findreviews and bookish fun at Just what I was looking for This is charming, witty and introduced me to the wonderfully observant Mildred Lathbury My first book by Pym, but not my last Findreviews and bookish fun at I did not like this book I found it a total bore from start to finish I didn t laugh once It is supposed to have satirical humor I found no humor at all The book is about a single woman, Mildred Lathbury She is in her thirties She is living in London near Victoria Station in the years following the Second World War History is scarcely referred to other than mention of food rationing, a lack of commodities and a bombed building or two Her days consist of eating meals and tea over and I did not like this book I found it a total bore from start to finish I didn t laugh once It is supposed to have satirical humor I found no humor at all The book is about a single woman, Mildred Lathbury She is in her thirties She is living in London near Victoria Station in the years following the Second World War History is scarcely referred to other than mention of food rationing, a lack of commodities and a bombed building or two Her days consist of eating meals and tea over and over again How one can eat a meal and go an hour later to tea and an hour later to the next meal is beyond me If not sipping tea or munching on bread and jam, often in the company of a friend, she is arranging a church jumble sale, a church bazaar or some other church function Her father had been a clergyman Both mother and father are now dead Other than these things she is constantly, constantly helping her acquaintances, to the extent of total self effacement Or..wondering about love Is she happy No And so life continues My God, why doesn t she put her foot down Setting no limits, doing everything for everybody, she is used by all A person must set limits, don t you think No, women do not have to get married, but they do have to do something of interest with their lives Ordinary lives are fine as long as they give one a modicum of self fulfillment, and I do not believe Mildred Lathbury comes near to any such feeling This is how I see the book You may see it differently The Hachette audiobook is said to be narrated by Jonathan Keeble, but that is wrong he only reads the two introductions Don t worry, they don t say very much only very general information about the author s writing is set forth It is Jerry Halligan who reads the story She reads at a good pace and with appropriate intonations for the story s diverse characters The narration is fine.This book annoyed me If you let yourself be stepped on, whose fault is that